Robert Jeffress—controversial evangelical megachurch pastor—and all who celebrate his claim that “God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un” have betrayed their evangelical heritage and endangered millions. Robert Jeffress has betrayed an evangelical heritage and endangered millions. Click To Tweet
Jeffress claims that Romans 13 gives authority to Trump to do anything needed “to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un.” And Jeffress also states that Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount has nothing to do with how people, presidents, and countries should act.
Jeffress is wrong on both two accounts, with deadly consequences.
On Two Mountains
This week I have been touring Israel and Palestine with Interfaith Partners for Peace. A couple days ago we visited the traditional site for Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Our group discussed how these words inspired Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German pastor and theologian who resisted Nazi German. Bonhoeffer believed people should actually live by these words, words that speak of loving your enemies and seeking peace, words that got Bonhoeffer killed during the war.
Immediately after this we climbed Mount Bental where a United Nations observation force looks down on war-torn Syria from the an Israeli-occupied territory. Each of the villages we could see was controlled by different factions within Syria—loyalists to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian rebels, and even ISIS.
These two mountains show why Jeffress is dead wrong.
The Way of Nations
Gazing down on Syria from the Israeli-occupied territory—and thinking of all human governments in conflict—we saw ruined towns decimated by those longing to rule. And within every power struggle rulers, presidents, or dictators always follow the law of rewarding those who do good and punishing those who do evil—always according to the definitions of those in power.
Looking down from that mountain we must remember that the supposed moral authority Jeffress claims from Romans 13 is just an observation about how the world works, not how it should work. And we must remember that according to Romans 13 these governments reward and punish the people within their own borders, not the leaders of other countries. Romans 13 only speaks of the way of nations in the world.
The Way of the Gospel
But what of the way of the gospel—the gospel from which evangelicals take their name?
The way of the gospel is encapsulated in the Sermon on the Mount and its well-known Beatitudes which speaks of meekness, humility, lament, mercy, and peacemaking. This is the way of the gospel. And this is the way that evangelical pastors should be placing before their people, and before their president.
Jeffress is dead wrong to dismiss the importance of the Sermon on the Mount. It is a betrayal of the gospel. Jeffress is dead wrong about the Sermon on the Mount. It's a betrayal of the gospel. Click To Tweet
We must not exchange the birthright of living and declaring the gospel for the porridge of advising governments on political quid pro quo. We evangelicals must not grant moral authority to President Trump to “take out” a foreign leader according to a logic inimical to the gospel. When we do, we lose the true moral authority of the gospel of peace.
As part of our trip we visited an Israeli community just north of the Gaza Strip, near the coastal city of Ashkelon. The next day a rocket was fired from Gaza, flying directly over the community I was at, landing halfway to Ashkelon. Israel naturally launched a reprisal strike. This is the way of nations.
But if rockets and reprisals fly between North Korea and the United State then untold millions could die because of Trump’s “fire and fury.”
Evangelicals must reject the false and shallow teachings of those like Jeffress. We must live and embody and strive for the peace that the gospel offers. Anything less diminishes whatever moral authority we might yet have. Evangelicals must reject the false and shallow teachings of those like Jeffress. Click To Tweet
Also listen to “Subject to Government? Protesting Romans 13” which places this passage in context with other texts from the New Testament.